Google Apps, Cloud Computing and Ethics, Oh My!

WEB_Google_GmailCalendar_bigShould lawyers use cloud computing software like Gmail in their law practices? Is Google calendar a good choice for law firms? Is it ethical for lawyers to use cloud-based Google Apps in their practices? In their recently published book, Google Gmail and Calendar in One Hour for Lawyers, veteran legal technology authors Carole Levitt and Mark Rosch tackle these questions and many more.*

At the outset, Levitt and Rosch rebut the suggestion that cloud-based Google Apps, which stores confidential client data on third-party servers, is not secure enough for lawyers to use, emphatically stating that “(w)e wouldn’t be writing this book if the answer were no.” They later return to address the ethical issues presented by cloud computing more fully at the end of the book, as I discuss below.

But before doing so, the authors provide a very useful analysis of the benefits offered by cloud-based software, including Google Apps Suite’s Calendar and Gmail, compared to traditional calendar and e-mail software. They explain that unlike conventional software, web-based software like Google Apps allows for far more flexibility and agility at a very affordable cost. Benefits discussed include:

  • Ability to access e-mail and calendars from any web-enabled device, no matter the time or place
  • Automatic syncing capabilities across all devices
  • Can be easily integrated with most leading cloud-based law practice management systems
  • Saves time and money compared to traditional software
  • Unlimited storage as part of a low monthly fee
  • Redundant back ups of data on secure servers that are monitored 24/7

Next, in the very useful interim chapters, they lay out in detail everything lawyers could ever want to know about Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Apps, including:

  • How to set up, manage and use Gmail accounts
  • How to use Google Chat/Google Talk, Google Hang Outs and how to make phone calls from within Gmail
  • How to set up, use and customize Google Calendar
  • The benefits of integrating Google Apps with law practice management software.

Many of these chapters provide lawyers with step-by-step instructions, including an abundance of screen shots, with the end goal being to make it easy for lawyers to jump right in and begin using the many features offered by Google Apps. Useful chapter highlights include easy-to-understand directions on how to: 1) set up offline access to both Gmail and Google Calendars, 2) migrate existing e-mail messages into Gmail, and 3) how to customize Google Calendar to meet your firm’s specific needs.

And, as promised, at the end of the book the authors discuss the security and ethical issues in more detail, noting that although cloud computing is commonplace and most businesses already use it in one form or another, lawyers are sometimes still hesitant to use web-based tools for perceived security reasons. But, they explain that in most cases, those reservations are unfounded since, “a growing number of state bar association ethics opinions approve of lawyers using…cloud services as long as lawyers use reasonable measures to ensure the security of these services.”

Next, they acknowledge that although many bar associations have given cloud computing use by lawyers the green light, “they have arrived at their conclusions using varied arguments.” The authors then review and analyze many of the opinions that have been handed down on this issue and then provide this useful summary:

While no file storage option is foolproof or hacker proof, cloud computing storage services like Google Apps can give law firms of all sizes the benefit of an engineering team (probably better-trained than the firm could afford to hire on its own) to manage the security and availability of their data.

My only criticism of the book is one that really can’t be helped: even though this book was published just 4 months ago, some of the information in the book is already outdated. That being said, when you’re writing about the web-based platforms, that’s simply the nature of the beast. Cloud-based products are improved and updated often, with minor tweaks to the interface being implemented on occasion, so some discrepancies are to be expected.

That one criticism aside (that is outside of the authors’ control), I  definitely recommend this book. It’s very well-written and highly informative. The bottom line: it’s a book that lawyers of all technological skill sets who are thinking of using–or are already using–Google Apps should read.

* I was provided with a review copy of this book.

–Nicole Black

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